Mar 18, 2016

Preacher, Doodle. Doo.

David Prince is one of my favorite contemporary authors in the field of homiletics. His blog posts, book Church with Jesus as Hero, and dissertation on “The Necessity of a Christocentric Kingdom Focused Model of Expository Preaching” are clear, engaging, theologically robust, and yet eminently practical. He’s a pastor, homiletics professor, a passionate proponent of Christocentric preaching, and huge baseball fan. I mean, what’s not to like about that combination!

In a recent blog post David gave three approaches to sermon preparation “that are not usually considered as normal parts of the discussion when one thinks about how to prepare a sermon.”

One of those approaches was “Doodle the Word.”

I use the term “doodle” here rather than “draw” because no one could confuse the sketching I do in sermon preparation as legitimate art (you may be a far more capable artist than I am). Doodling helps me attempt to conceptualize the message of the sermon. I usually have the text that I will be preaching printed on a sheet of paper, and if possible, I prefer to have it all on one page so that I can see the entire text. As I think through and study the text, I simply doodle circles, highlights, lines, and a variety of other things, most of which, no other human being would be able to make sense of, on the paper. Sometimes, I also draw pictures that aid me in conceptualizing the imagery or scene of a given text. Other times, I attempt to write a rhyming verse (I am certainly no poet), trying to encapsulate the message of the text. Putting pen to paper helps me internalize my thinking in a way that a keyboard does not. This kind of creativity in sermon preparation was common with John Bunyan, John Newton, Isaac Watts, and others.

I too have found it helpful to doodle. I guess that shouldn’t be surprising in light of the number of articles and studies confirming the benefits of writing things out by hand.

Here’s an example of the kind of doodling I do when preparing to preach on a particular text.

As you can see there’s nothing truly artistic here (like what the super creative guys over at The Bible Project are doing)–just some boxes and lines and circles. But I am engaging my hand and my head in ways that help me see, and therefore, understand the passage with greater clarity.

The Process

  1. I begin by doing a structural display of the passage. This visual helps me see the passage “at a glance” and discern its organization. It also helps me understand the relationships between the individual clauses and phrases. (Mine is in English, but you might prefer to use the original languages.)
  2. Then I print out several copies of the display for use as I take notes.
  3. The first copy I use to record my own personal observations and reflections on the text.
  4. Subsequent copies are used as I interact with commentaries and other secondary sources. In the example above I used the display to take notes as I read through George Knight’s commentary on the Pastoral Epistles in the NIGNT series.

The display not only allows me to doodle on the text, it also allows me to verify from the text. Here’s what I mean–as I interact with the data and conclusions coming from the commentators I want to be able to see for myself from the text that what they are saying is truly biblical. So I am constantly glancing back and forth between the text of Scripture and the words of the commentator. Can they convince me based on the details of the text or context that what they are arguing for is accurate?

Doodling on the text keeps the details of the text before me.

Doodling on the text keeps me from mindlessly embracing what some guy with a Ph.D. says without Berean-like verification.

So, preacher, perhaps it’s time you doo some doodling.


Question: Do you doodle as part of your sermon preparation? What kind of doodling do you do? Have you found it helpful?